3 lakh hectares of forest land diverted for non-forest use over 15 years, compensatory afforestation programme a showpiece  

Punjab tops lists of the MoEFCC provided data on divergence of forest land for non-forest use, mining projects account for the highest diversion

Worrying statistics in reference to divergence of forest land for non-forest use and compensatory afforestation have come forth. During the latest Monsoon Session of the Parliament, the highly controversial “Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023” was passed by both the houses of the Parliament in June. Notably, the bill had been passed by the Lok Sabha with almost no debate. Even in the Rajya Sabha, the bill was passed after opposition had staged a walk out over their demands for discussion on Manipur Violence.

The bill seeks to amend the decades old Forest Conservation Act, 1980. It also aims to remove the mandatory central government approval for diversion of forests in certain cases. This means that decisions regarding the diversion of forest land would be taken by state governments and the UT administration only. Among the changes suggested, the below preamble was inserted into the act, and the “Forest (Conservation) Act” is substituted by “Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam” in the principal Act.

A deeper analysis of the Bill and the concerns raised against it can be read here.

Ironically, on September 8, during the much publicised G20 Summit opening day, the New Delhi Leaders’ Summit Declaration was adopted by India and other participating nations which included Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Declaration also highlighted issues like increase in Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, drought, land degradation and desertification threatening lives and livelihoods.

As India plans to work towards” effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, below are some statistics providing an insight into the status of forest land diversion and the extent of compensatory afforestation done in India prior and post the Forest Conservation Act. The said data is based on the answer provided by the government to Shri Feroze Varun Gandhi (BJP) during the monsoon session of the Lok Sabha. Statistics were also provided regarding the land acquired for compensatory afforestation. It is essential to note here that compensatory afforestation is one of the adopted mitigative mechanisms while approving proposals for de-reservation or diversion of forest land for non-forest use. Essentially, the purpose of compensatory afforestation is to compensate for the loss of land by land and the loss of trees by trees. 

Forest Land diverted for non-forestry use since 1980- approximately one million hectares:

The Forest Conservation Act, 1980 was passed by the government in an effort to control the conversion of forest land and prevent additional deforestation. The use of forest land for non-forest purposes was constrained by the act.  Without taking any mitigation measures, 4.1 million hectares of forest area were diverted over a 25-year period between 1951–1952 and 1975–1976. This occurred prior to the passage of the legislation. Approximately 1.65 lakh hectares were diverted annually on average during this time.

After the enactment of the act, over the forty-year period between 1980 and 2021, a total of 9.9 lakh hectares of forest land is diverted for non-forestry purposes. As provided by Factly, the average annual rate of diversion during this period came down to around 23,618 hectares. These figures also illustrate the impact that the legislation has had in reducing the diversion of forest area for non-forest area use, which partially explains why the current government has been eager to bring amendments to the same. 

State-wise statistic on Forest land diversion for non-forestry use in the last 15 years:

As provided by Shri Bhupender Yadav, Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), a total of 3,05,945 hectares of forest land had been approved for non-forest use under Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 between 2008-09 and 2022-23. This land has been approved for a total of 17,301 projects.

From the data, it was deduced that from amongst the states, Punjab toped the forest land diversion, followed by the states of Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. As per the data, over the last fifteen years, Punjab had diverted over sixty thousand hectares (61,318) whereas Madhya Pradesh diverted more than forty thousand hectares (40,628), and Odisha diverted nearly thirty thousand hectares (28,321). In fact, as per the data, states namely Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Telangana account for approximately half of the total forest land diversion in the past fifteen years.

The aforementioned answer provided by the MoEFCC also provides that over the period of the last 15 years, mining projects account for the highest diversion of forest land for non-forest uses, accounting for almost approximately sixty thousand hectares of diverted forest land. Mining projects are then followed by road projects, accounting for a diversion of forty-five thousand hectares, and irrigation projects, which accounts for thirty-six thousand hectares of forest land diversion. Crucially, these four project types- mining, road, irrigation, and transmission cumulatively account for more than half of the total forest land diversion.

Over 9 lakh hectares of land taken up for Compensatory Afforestation, reports of poor quality:

Guidelines of the MoEFCC provide for compensatory afforestation is to be raised on suitable non-forest land, equivalent to the area proposed for diversion, at the cost to be paid by User Agency. Additionally, the non-forest land for Compensatory Afforestation had to be located as close to or adjacent to Reserved Forest or Protected Forest.

On compensatory afforestation, the data provided by the MoEFCC depicts that over 9 lakh hectares of land had been taken up as compensatory afforestation in the last 15 years between 2008-09 and 2022-23. Out of that 9 hectares of land, almost 1/3rd was taken up since 2020-21.

Furthermore, the state-level data over the last 15 years indicate that the state of Jharkhand tops in compensatory afforestation with 1.5 lakh hectares, followed by Rajasthan with 1.05 lakh hectares, Karnataka with 0.9 lakh hectares, and Jammu and Kashmir with 0.87 lakh hectares.

The complete answer can be read here:

It is crucial to highlight here that as per a report in the Indian Express, India’s showpiece compensatory afforestation programme has been struggling to compensate for forests being cleared for development. The said report revealed the poor quality of the compensatory afforestation, with land being spread in different locations instead of being contiguous, the quality of lands used for afforestation, using lands belonging to tribals and forest dwellers for afforestation among others.

Inconsistencies in govt data on forest land diversions and compensatory afforestation, raises questions on validity:

The report by Factly, inconsistencies are evident in the data provided by the government on forest land diversions and compensatory afforestation. As per their report, the data provided by various sources on these issues did not match. For instance, the “e-green watch” portal showed that a total of 3,87,239 hectares of forest land had been diverted for non-forest use (no time period specified), while the Lok Sabha answer had depicted that a total 3,05,945 hectares of forest land had been diverted since 2008. These inconsistencies have raising serious questions on the reliability of the data provided to the public.

Furthermore, the 2013 Compliance Report of CAG on Compensatory Afforestation[1] revealed the discrepancies in data given by the individual state forest departments and the Regional Offices of the MoEFCC. The CAG was also concerned about the lack of reliable reporting systems to track the amount of diverted forest land and assess the degree to which these forest lands had been depleted due to a shortage of non-forested land. The entire monitoring system in place at the MoEFCC and State Forest Departments in this regard is called into doubt due to the discrepancies in the data and the validity of the statements on the compensatory afforestation.

[1] Microsoft Word – 01 Ist Page – inner page (cag.gov.in)



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